Pic: WA News, Sharon Smith
Pic: WA News, Sharon Smith

Plans for prescribed burning in WA will be scrutinised by an independent body before ignition, following the disastrous Margaret River bushfire last summer.

The bushfire spread from a prescribed burn by the Department of Environment and Conservation that got out of control, destroying more than 40 properties in the South West tourism and wine growing region.

The blaze was investigated by former federal police commissioner Mick Keelty, who in February determined it was caused by a series of blunders by the overstretched DEC.

The State Government today said the Office of Bushfire Risk Management had started operating and would independently assess the risks of prescribed burns undertaken by the DEC as well as assessing the level of resources available should such burns flare out of control.

Environment Minister Bill Marmion announced the OBRM would be established, and also halted prescribed burns in populated areas, in the week the Keelty report was released.

Mr Marmion last year survived the opposition’s call for him to lose his portfolio on the basis that the fire proved he was not up for the job.

Rob Johnson, however, was stripped of his role as emergency services minister and was replaced by Troy Buswell, although Mr Johnson remains the State’s police minister.

Mr Buswell today said OBRM had the authority to direct a burn to be delayed or even cancelled if it deemed the risks to be too great.

“In line with the Keelty recommendations, it will also facilitate greater information sharing and co-ordination between agencies involved in prescribed burning and management of bushfire-related risk generally,” he said.

Mr Keelty also investigated the Perth Hills bushfire in February last year, which destroyed 71 homes and damaged others, and was sparked when a resident used an angle grinder during a total fire ban.

His investigation into that bushfire uncovered a lack of co-operation between WA’s Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) and DEC, and a failure to follow correct procedures.

FESA’s then-chief executive Jo Harrison-Ward was replaced by Wayne Gregson after the findings were released.

Mr Buswell said OBRM reported directly to Mr Gregson.

The West Australian

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